Charles Robert Darwin (18091882). Origin of Species. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
V. Laws of Variation
Multiple, Rudimentary, and Lowly Organised Structures Are Variable
IT seems to be a rule, as remarked by the younger Geoffroy, both with varieties and species, that when any part or organ is repeated many times in the same individual (as the vertebrae in snakes, and the stamens in polyandrous flowers) the number is variable; whereas the same part or organ, when it occurs in lesser numbers, is constant. The same author as well as some botanists have further remarked that multiple parts are extremely liable to vary in structure. As vegetable repetition, to use Prof. Owens expression, is a sign of low organisation, the foregoing statements accord with the common opinion of naturalists, that beings which stand low in the scale of nature are more variable than those which are higher. I presume that lowness here means that the several parts of the organisation have been but little specialised for particular functions; and as long as the same part has to perform diversified work, we can perhaps see why it should remain variable, that is, why natural selection should not have preserved or rejected each little deviation of form as carefully as when the part has to serve for some one special purpose. In the same way, a knife which has to cut all sorts of things may be of almost any shape; whilst a tool for some particular-purpose must be of some particular shape. Natural selection, it should never be forgotten, can act solely through and for the advantage of each being.
Rudimentary parts, as it is generally admitted, are apt to be highly variable. We shall have to recur to this subject; and I will here only add that their variability seems to result from their uselessness, and consequently from natural selection having had no power to check deviations in their structure.